Public Entity Liability

Public Entities: Costs Against Counsel

By on June 29, 2015 - Comments off

Settle v. State of California, (Second District, July 23, 2014) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2014 WL 3615482

A woman who was injured when a sand escarpment on a beach collapsed causing her to fall into the water and rocks, sued the State of California and the City of Morro Bay, alleging a dangerous condition of public property. The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that the action was barred by a statutory immunity for injuries caused by a natural condition on unimproved public property. (Gov. Code, §§ 831.2; 831.21.) The trial court granted the motion and ordered the plaintiff and her attorney pay attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Gov. Code § 1038, which  requires a mandatory award of defense costs where a trial court grants summary judgment and finds that plaintiff lacked reasonable cause and good faith in filing or maintaining a tort action against a public entity.

The plaintiff’s attorney appealed, contending that section 1038 does not authorize the imposition of defense costs against counsel. The court of appeal agreed and reversed, rejecting the State’s contention that an award for defense costs is similar to an action for malicious prosecution: Read the rest »


Public Entities: Design Immunity

By on March 24, 2015 - Comments off

Martinez v. County of Ventura, (Second District, April 8, 2014) 225 Cal.App.4th 364, 169 Cal.Rptr.3d 880, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 3825, 2014 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4418

A man who was rendered paraplegic when his motorcycle struck an asphalt berm abutting a raised drain on the shoulder of a county road, filed an action against the County.  The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s “top-hat drain system,” a heavy steel cover on three legs elevated eight to ten inches off the ground with a sloped asphalt berm to channel water into the drain, constituted a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code  § 835. The County asserted a number of defenses, including design immunity under § 830.6, which provides that a public entity is not liable for an injury “caused by the plan or design of a construction of, or an improvement to, public property where such plan or design has been approved in advance of the construction or improvement by the legislative body of the public entity or by some other body or employee exercising discretionary authority to give such approval.”

A jury found that the drain system was a dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, but also found for the County on its design immunity claim and rendered a verdict for the defendant.  However, the court of appeal reversed, holding that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support the jury’s finding of design immunity, and that the jury’s finding of a dangerous condition would be binding on retrial:

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Public Entity Claims: Estoppel

By on December 10, 2014 - Comments off

J.J. v. County of San Diego, (Fourth District, February 14, 2014) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1575, 2014 WL 563805

A minor who was sexually molested by her foster father filed a claim against the County of San Diego in 2012, alleging that the County was negligent in placing her in the foster home, and negligent in supervision and/or failure to investigate/prevent sexual abuse in the foster home. The County contended that the claimant had failed to file a timely claim within 6 months of the accrual of her cause of action, because in 2010 she had disclosed the molestation to her parents and County social workers, which led to a police investigation. The County further contended that her cause of action accrued when she was molested in 2009, or at the latest, in early March of 2011 when her parents (after reunification) attended and spoke at the sentencing.

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